Tag Archives: kindness

Sometimes Silly – Let’s Draw Pictures and Play: Blogging 101

Carol A. Hand

I share this with love for my granddaughter, Ava, in memory of the days we spent playing this summer. Although I most often post serious prose, and claim no talent as an artist or poet, I am willing to be silly on rainy days when we’re stuck inside.

It’s a dark rainy day,
So what can we do?

Let’s draw pictures and play,

Ahma 6

Photo Credit: Artist Ava, Coloring by Ahma – Summer 2014

I’ll draw one of you.

Ahma

Photo Credit: Artist Ava, Coloring by Ahma

And you’ll draw one of me,

Ahma 2

Photo Credit: Artist Ahma, Coloring by Ava

Then we’ll switch and we’ll color.
Oh no – who can that be?

Ahma 5

Photo Credit: A Shared Creation by Ava and Ahma

(In case you’re wondering, Ahma is the name my grandson gave me when he was first learning to speak – before he could pronounce “g” and “r”. It’s the name my grandchildren continue to use. )

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Inch by inch, row by row …”

 Carol A. Hand

 Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna to make this garden grow …
Please bless these seeds I sow
Please keep them safe below
‘Til the rain come tumbling down
(Pete Seeger)

I have been thinking about how important blogging has become to me. When I posted my first essay on June 18, 2013, it was only because of a partnership I had with a friend who knew more about technology that I did. Anyone who visits this blog now can probably see that, despite a little over a year of blogging experience, I still have many technological challenges to overcome yet. The few improvements are due largely to my new blogging partner, Cheryl.

I remember that the only one who liked my first post was my blogging partner at the time, Susan Sutphin at intersistere. Much to my surprise, someone pressed the “like” icon for my third post, and then honored me with recognition for my fourth post. Over time, we became virtual friends. Without his support, encouragement, and recognition, I am sure I would have given up many times. I know he has done the same for many other bloggers. When he announced that he was taking a hiatus from blogging for a little while, it felt a bit like the sun going out. Since then, I have been contemplating how to express how important his posts have been for me, and how crucial his support for other bloggers has been in building a network that feels like an authentic community based on honesty, creativity, inclusiveness, and critical thinking.

Because he often remembers to ask how my garden is doing, it occurred to me that the work he has done in the blogosphere is similar to gardening, and Pete Seeger provides the metaphor – “inch by inch, row by row… Jeff Nguyen, this is my way to say chi miigwetch for continuing to be part of all of our lives (Ojibwe thank you very much). As I look at the before and after pictures for my garden, I am reminded of where I began as a blogger and where I am at present. It’s still a work in progress, but you gave me the hope and support to continue.

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Inch by inch…

I moved to Duluth in late October of 2011 to a house I bought sight-unseen. My daughter picked it out, although I had seen the following pictures that were posted on the internet.

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Photo Credit: Mesina Realty Photo September 2011

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Photo Credit: Mesina Realty Photo September 2011

I wondered about the log cabin and the windmill and the strange metal “tree” in front of the deck with its ringed branches holding flower pots filled with plastic flowers. I guess we all have different ideas of beauty. And then there was the aged greenhouse frame surrounded by raspberry bushes and little trees, and the rotting weeping willow that showed daylight halfway up its mighty trunk. Cutting trees is not something I do lightly. Yet, as I watched children walking past everyday on their way to and from the elementary school on one side and the high school on the other, I realized I would need to do something to make their passage safer.

DSC00096

Photo Credit: February 13, 2012

So the dying tree came down, leaving its partner to weather the winds and storms on its own. The next spring, I cleared the brush the old fashioned way, shovel by shovel, inch by inch, and painted the greenhouse frame – still a work in progress.

garden August 2013 (1)

Photo Credit: August 13, 2013

 

DSC00375

Photo Credit: August 11, 2014

Of course there are always challenges – critters that have been displaced by urban development, and brutal winters.

polar vortex 2014

Photo Credit: The Polar Vortex Winter – February of 2014

 A deer just ate my tomatoes

Photo Credit: A Deer Just Ate my Tomatoes – May 15, 2014

Yet gardens, like blogging, provide opportunities to help others develop knowledge, skills, and a belief in their ability to honor life and create something beautiful. This is the newest project that my granddaughter, Ava, helped to create out of salvaged lumber from the old fence that was replaced as a deer repellant.

DSC00373

Photo Credit: Ava’s Garden – August 11, 2014

Inch by inch, the garden is continuing to grow, and post by post the blogging adventure is continuing to grow as well. I wish to thank of everyone who has stopped by our modest blog to share your wisdom, kindness, and insights. And again I wish to say chi miigwetch, Jeff for helping build a community that is working to create the peace and unity your work represents.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In Remberance of a Dear Friend

Cardinal

Photo Credit: Clip Art

Cheryl A. Bates

The beauty of your spirit will always be in my heart.

Like the joy a rose brings to a sullen mind,

your love and friendship brought out the joy in mine.

No longer are you bound by earthly toils.

Thus, I pray you soar now upon lofty wings

resolving your quest towards the freedom you so desired.

Sing to me of your happiness through the cardinal’s song

and I will sing you mine as you left me behind.

Although I know nothing about writing poetry, I wrote this poem about a dear friend I lost to suicide.

A few years ago I was very excited to accept my first social work faculty appointment at a mid-west university where they claimed to embrace and welcome diversity. It didn’t take long for me to realize that what the university and department said about diversity and how they behaved were two very different things. Although the university had just opened up an LGBT resource center and had active faculty and student support groups, the sexual minority community on campus suffered from competing loyalties, conflicts, and cliquishness, which I did not find particularly welcoming or supportive. My department, like the university and community still held strong anti-gay prejudices. Although I was assured during the interview that my openness about being gay was an important contribution to the diversity of the department, my colleagues were not particularly welcoming and remained distant.

They never reached out to include me in events, never stopped by to visit me in my office, and were always too busy to talk when I asked for assistance. Some were rather blatant. One Saturday I dropped by my office to do some tasks and ran into another colleague who had her daughter there with her. It was apparent that the child was familiar with the office setting and curiously said, “Who is the new professor?” This prompted me to introduce myself and engage in age-appropriate conversation with the child. However, when my colleague discovered who her child was talking to she immediately cut off the interaction and gently but forcefully moved the child towards the door and out of the office despite the child’s reluctance to abruptly end her conversation.

Unable to connect within the university setting, I looked to the local community for support and socialization. Through word of mouth, I found a “gay-friendly” bar where I could meet and socialize with other gay people. It wasn’t a particularly friendly place but I thought as time went on I might connect and begin to build a social life.

It was there that I met my friend. When she walked through the door and saw a new face, she came over and sat down, introduced herself, and began to share stories about herself, her husband, her family, growing up in the area, hunting, fishing, and on and on. Over the next four years, she shared her world with me in such a generous, genuine, and loving way.

As I endured increasingly isolating and hostile conditions at my job, my friend and her family provided a sanctuary for me. They made me feel welcomed and through their kindness and acceptance I experienced the best of the mid-west and learned how to have fun even during the long cold winters. Together we generated a lifetime of joyful memories — from funny camping escapades, fishing, four-wheeling, and even a polar bear plunge!

For her, I was a non-judgmental and supportive friend. Often she would drop in for coffee and seek refuge from the ever increasing challenges of attending to the demands of her family, a drinking husband, and delinquent son. She had been laid off from work she loved due to the company downsizing during a failing economy. Instead of doing a job she performed with pride and a sense of accomplishment, her days were now filled with countless errands, providing transportation for someone, providing care for someone, and always finishing up with dinner on the table.

She was unique in that she pushed against the boundaries of gender and sexuality. She was close to her father and learned to love the outdoors and hunting from him. For her, a visit from a cardinal was her father checking on her and sending his love. She played softball and was in three different leagues at the same time for most of her adult life. She struggled for both personal and public acceptance of her sexual identity. After a deeply romantic relationship with a woman she desperately longed for a connection within the gay community but was shunned because financially she was unable to break free from an unfulfilled, abusive marriage.

She loved country music and the words from a Rascall Flatts song expresses her situation more clearly: “I’ve lived in this place and I know all the faces. Each one is different but they’re always the same. They mean me no harm but it’s time that I face it, they’ll never allow me to change.”

Although I continually process my grief over her untimely death, I find consolation knowing that she has finally found freedom and escaped the bonds of her psychic pain. I grieve that the world lost someone who was truly giving to others even though she didn’t have much herself.  And although she only had a high school education and perhaps some learning challenges, she was gifted with people. She understood people and knew how to engage them with kindness, courtesy, and respect. She was creative with the words known to her and would often speak at funerals for friends when their voices were silenced by grief. Her pain was so deep and yet she was viewed by others in the community as refreshing, funny, and engaging. No one was a stranger to her.

I would like to think that in that last moment when she walked from the garage to the basement where she ended her life, that she was making a conscious decision. That thought fills me with pain and anger only because it is a selfish thought centered how the emotions I feel over her death cause me deep hurt and sadness. But when I think about it from her point of view, I am exhilarated knowing that she no longer suffers as she did for such a very long time. She ended her life in the best way she knew how at that moment in time.

Who’s to say that someone who takes his/her own life is a coward, weak, or selfish? I have heard it said that suicide is a selfish act and in some ignorant way I bought into this way of thinking until my friend’s suicide. This July will be the second anniversary of her death and although I still struggle daily with the loss, I am a better person because of having known her.

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For-giving

Carol A. Hand

“Be moderate in all things; watch, listen, and consider, your deeds will be prudent.”
(Midewewin Code, the Ojibwe “Path of Life,” Basil Johnston, Ojibway Heritage, 1976, p. 93)

forgiveness medinalmeadows dot com

Photo Credit: Medicinalmeadows.com

This morning I was reflecting on the dynamics of forgiving. I remember the first time I consciously moved beyond merely reacting to bullying and began to explore the ways in which I escalated other’s behavior through my own actions. I was a senior in high school. One of my former friends suddenly organized a group of other girls to begin making disparaging remarks about me as we stood in line to get lunch in the cafeteria. Their comments were loud enough for everyone to hear. I have long forgotten most, but the one that comes to mind, hardest to bear as a teenager, was a precursor of cyber bulling. “There she is, that arrogant slut.” The group followed me into classes and in the hallways as a chorus of unrelenting harpies.

Why, I wondered, are they behaving this way? I had never done them any harm. I believe it started as a result of a dispute between my father and the father of the girl who began the taunting. Her family needed access across land my family owned to get to their house on the top of a mountain in northwestern Pennsylvania, which my family granted. But when they wanted to widen and pave the road through the middle of the farm, a battle ensued between my father and my classmate’s father that reminded me of the Hatfields and McCoys. The conflict escalated from shouting to fistfights to an attack on my father with a road-grading tractor that left him bleeding on the road from a partially-severed leg. I knew the conflict was a two-way “pissing match” between two men who were not able to back down and appear “weak” in front of others.

I refused to engage in the conflict even though it angered the rest of my family. I also refused to move from the hilltop home when my family moved to an apartment in town. Although it was sometimes a frightening, I lived alone. I drove the one-lane dirt road around the winding turns up the mountain to my house knowing that I would be able to deal with any challenges on my own. But there were none, at least not at home. The challenges came at school from the neighbor’s daughter, also a senior who was in some of my classes. We had been friends before the conflict, but as it escalated, she stopped talking to me and then began organizing her group of friends to make my life in school hell.

So far, I sound like the virtuous victim, and in my own mind I know I thought of myself that way. I didn’t respond to the nastiness in a like manner. I remained stoic and reserved – “cool.” But I also used abilities I developed to cope with, and then end, my father’s abuse. I learned to read people’s greatest insecurities and fears. For my father, it was being diagnosed as “crazy,” a word he would have used to describe his uncontrollable bouts of depression and violent outbursts.  For my neighbor, it fear was being seen as “lower class” and not as smart as others. She tried to hide her family’s limited income by dressing in expensive clothes, and enrolled in the advanced classes because she was very bright.

I didn’t need to say a word to make her feel bad. I simply had to outshine her as a student and as someone whose family could afford things hers could not. And I could do it in a way that others didn’t think was intentional or mean. I could even fool myself into believing that it was fair to deal with a bully by making her feel small and insignificant. And then, one day, I woke up. I realized what I had done to hurt her, and I knew it was far more harmful than anything she had ever done to me. Waves of grief passed through me for the harm I had caused. There was no way to undo the hurt. I did try to apologize at the time and again years later, but I could never heal the harm that I had done.

Decades later, I had another opportunity to understand lessons about forgiveness more deeply. I accepted a position as a faculty member with a school of social work that prided itself on its unique approach to social justice as the foundation for its new master’s program. What I quickly discovered, however, was that the program was really no different than other social work programs. At first, some of my colleagues welcomed me as an innovative, compassionate critical thinker, but that changed when I didn’t engage in conversations that disparaged vulnerable students or colleagues. The tenured faculty with power functioned as the guardians and enforcers of the status quo, and they did so in ways that left lasting wounds for the most vulnerable and gifted of students and colleagues. When I began to speak in defense of colleagues and students, I was definitely no longer seen as desirable. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they saw me as a threat that needed to be silenced and neutralized because I could effectively buffer many of their targets from their bullying.

Although the four faculty members with the most power often bickered and jostled for power amongst themselves, they quickly created a united front against the threat to their unquestioned hegemony. As a new faculty member, an Ojibwe with a different set of values and approaches for teaching and doing research, I was an easy target. They used the most minor excuses to discredit my teaching skills despite student evaluations that documented otherwise, my scholarship despite publications and new research, and community service despite an overwhelming load of committee work and students advisees. And they got nasty. Again, I sound virtuous, but not necessarily blameless this time because I did serve as an effective advocate where there had been none before.

So they piled extra work on me, belittled me in front of their classes, and tried to force students who were my advisees to falsify my evaluations by fabricating deficiencies in my performance. I still sound like the victim, and I honestly saw myself that way. Going to work became increasingly more painful, and in my mind, I characterized my colleagues as evil incarnate. So I began to use the same defensive skills I had used in high school. I knew that the most frightening thing in academia is to feel you are not as smart as others and to have others find you out. In the midst of personal attacks, I knew how to use my voice, facial expressions, body language, words, and actions to play on those fears. It was clear that I won the popularity contest with students, not because I was easier, but because I was compassionate, supportive of students, and still expected excellence and authenticity. Although my scholarship was not as voluminous as that of some of my colleagues, it was nationally acclaimed. And although I tried to stay away from the spotlight, it’s impossible to do if you’re one of the very few Native American faculty in an institution that purports to serve Native communities.

It was easy to win over student loyalty and community support just by being myself. As individuals, my colleagues were intimidated by my graciousness, intelligence, and dogged refusal to falsely massage their egos by complimenting them on their skills or cultural competence. (I didn’t see any at the time.) I demonized them in my thoughts while I concomitantly struggled with the question of how to create world peace when I couldn’t even live in harmony with my colleagues. They weren’t invading countries or murdering children. Yet I resisted the growing awareness that I needed to forgive them. Then, in a moment of overwhelming grief, resignation, and despair, I realized it was not my colleagues I needed to forgive, it was myself. I needed to forgive myself for transgressing my own values and ethics. Just as I had years before, I had used my defensive skills to wound others in the areas where they were most vulnerable. I had escalated their violence by making them feel they were somewhat dull and uncreative, small and insignificant.

lady justice

Photo Credit: Google lady justice images

It is true that they did this to others, often to those who were the most vulnerable, and their actions left lasting harm. It is also true that they tried to make me feel small and insignificant as a human being, and did their best to destroy my career. But I realized that there was no excuse I could use to justify the way I treated them. I knew that whatever gifts I have been given are meant to lift others up, not to oppress or harm them. I learned that I really need to always remember a universal truth my culture has taught me about moderation and mindful actions.

I am sharing these memories with tears in my eyes in hope they will help others. I cannot undo the harm I have caused others. I could continue to cling to the illusion that my actions were justified, but I know that’s not true. This doesn’t mean that I feel I should ever accept oppression and violence as universal and unchangeable. What it does mean for me is the need to shift my focus from resisting or unseating “oppressors” to one of compassion, seeing individuals who have strengths as well as weaknesses, gifts as well as faults, and relating to them with hope and kindness. I need to work from the same foundation with those who oppress others as I do with those who are oppressed, to try to raise awareness about the systems that oppress us all, to help them see and unlock their potential rather than respond with reifying judgment that locks them more firmly into an identity as the “deficient” or “evil” other.

compassion greatergood dot berkeley dot edu

Photo Credit: greatergood.berkely.edu

There are no guarantees that this will work. I can only try to be more vigilant and mindful in the future as I remember the deep wounds in my own heart, not from the actions of others, but from my own.

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Join us and live in Peace?

Cheryl A. Bates

In light of escalating tension between the U.S. and Russia, I wanted to share a thought I had after stumbling upon the 1951 movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still. First, let me say that as a child of the sixties living in a very rural area of the Pacific Northwest, the availability of information concerning the world was limited to weekly newspapers and access to only two major television networks (in black and white); consequently, I didn’t develop a passion for science fiction until recently. Yes, I literally became a Trekie in my fifties. With assistance from media streaming and unprecedented access to movies, documentaries, and other genres of entertainment, I have discovered a world of thinking in science fiction that transcends my rural country roots. How did I ever make it to the age of 51 without having discovered the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, a prophetic story about a humanoid alien visitor (Klaatu) and his omnipotent robot companion (Gort/Gnut) who land on earth to deliver a message that Earth must learn to live peacefully or be destroyed?

We come in peace and goodwill

Photo Credit: Klaatu, The Day the Earth Stood Still

“It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder” (Klaatu)

As a representative from a federation of other planets, Klaatu is sent to Earth to warn humankind that their experiments with atomic weapons are threatening the safety of other peaceful civilizations (www.britannica.com). The message is simple, Klaatu requests to meet with all the leaders of Earth in which to deliver the message that unless humankind gives up violence, other planets will destroy Earth in their own defense.  He was told that a meeting of such magnitude was impossible. Thus, as a peaceful demonstration of his power, Klaatu arranges for a 30 minute black out of power except where such a loss would be life-threatening. Even in the face of omnipotent power, humans are disbelieving in that something more powerful than they can live in peace.

surrounding ukraine infantry

Photo Credit: Surrounded: Unidentified armed men prepare their camp in font of Ukraine’s infantry base in Privolnoye.

Are we there now with sides aligning and taking on allies to brace against the fight over which one ultimately dominates the other? Each side is equipped with bombs aimed at the other that can destroy the world as we know it. Why do we insist on such lopsided accumulations of wealth and power? How can either “side” justify wealth and power that is used to secure more wealth and power, limit access to resources, and continued enforcement of hegemonic dictates instead of soothing the hunger of swollen bellies, healing the perils of disease, and perhaps building a world that is united, compassionate, cooperative, and beautiful? Where is that omnipotent presence now that will convince humankind that life is a beautiful gift and one meant to be shared?

peace

Photo Credit: Peace

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In Gratitude

Carol A. Hand

Although the polar vortex has returned, I awoke on this frigid sunny morning to a clear blue sky. As I looked toward the sky, the rays of the rising sun turned the bare branches of trees to gold. I was filled with a sense of gratitude for friends new and old who have helped me remain hopeful during the long cold winter. It has been a time of learning and a time of loss. I was reminded of a poem I read long ago.

 DSC00315

Duluth, MN – February 25, 2014

Comes the Dawn
(by Veronica A. Shoffstall)

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down mid-flight.
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
With every goodbye you learn.

In the spring, I will plant my gardens again because you have all given me hope. You have opened my eyes to new truths, inspired me with your courage and commitment to making the world a better place, and touched my heart with your kindness, depth and beauty. Chi Miigwetch for all that you share (Ojibwe for thank you very much).

DSC00238

Duluth, MN – August 13, 2013

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A Great-Grandmother’s Gift

Carol A. Hand

When my grandson, Aadi, was 7 years old, we went with his mother to visit his great-grandmother, Norma. Norma, my mother, was living in a home with other elders who needed attendants and nurses to provide care because she could no longer take care of herself. She had developed Alzheimer’s disease, an illness that caused her to lose her memories, her ability to communicate with others, and her ability to meet her own basic needs.

Speech was difficult for her, and when she did speak, her words rarely made sense – they often seemed to be bits and pieces from other distant times. Aadi’s mom, Jnana, was so kind and gentle with her grandmother, and so patient. Aadi was also gentle with his great-grandmother. He sat at her feet, carefully holding her fragile, wrinkled hand. I knelt down next to Aadi, and said to my mother, “This is your great grandson, Aadi.” My mother looked at me and said, “Aadi.” I smiled and then looked at Aadi and asked, “Did you hear her? She said your name!” Aadi shook his head, “no.” Then, my mother looked at Aadi, and then at me, and said, “He’s a good boy.” I asked Aadi if he heard this. This time, Aadi shook his head, “yes.”

Perhaps Aadi does not realize how magical this gift really was. Somehow in the later stages of a disease that robbed his great-grandmother of her language and the ability to communicate, she was able to show how special he was to her. She was able to say his name and tell him that he was a good boy.

Aadi’s great-grandmother made important contributions in her long life. She traveled many places and met people from many different walks of life. She was always a good judge of character. And somehow, because of her ability to see beneath the surface appearance of things, and because of the strength of her love, she was able to find words to tell her great grandson, Aadi, how special he is.

Norma and Aadi

Photo Credit: Norma, Aadi (3 months old), and Carol

And, Aadi is, indeed, good, although he is now a good, handsome, young man.

 

Aadi 7

Photo Credit: Aadi (7)

 

 

aadi ava ahma 2010

Photo Credit: Aadi, Ava, and Ahma (2010)

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